messy + free-flowing= to know is not enough

Do teachers need more PD, or start taking some creative risks?

on August 17, 2012

There is so much controversy about the use of textbooks in schools–what kind of texts, to what extent…. My graduate students have over the years asked me or wondered aloud (almost every semester): “Can you tell us exactly what levels of texts work with what kinds of kids?” and “How and what do we do when the child shows no interest, wish there was a formula.” The recent Harvard Education Letter, published an interesting article where Sue Pimentel (one of the lead writers of the English language arts standards) states,”The difference between what we ask students to read in college and careers and what we ask them to read in schools is the equivalent of the difference between fourth- and eighth-grade performance on [the National Assessment of Educational Progress].” Hence, by the time our students take postsecondary courses, they will be left behind by the complexity of the texts.

It is no small wonder therefore, that Colbert in his study discovered that members of the Congress speak more like high school sophomores. An increasingly important scrutiny as states implement the Common Core Standards is text complexity. Students are required to read and comprehend complex informational and literary texts not only independently but proficiently. This one criteria will be enough to tell us whether we are preparing students in the 21st century literacies—for the complexity of the workforce that awaits them. And in my mind here lies the question: Are teacher preparation programs really doing their jobs and keeping up with the changing times?

If I have been hearing the same questions hurled at me by the teacher candidates, then the obvious answer is NO. The recent thrust toward more PD for teachers—inviting speakers, assigning texts etc, are all great, but like in other fields, where and when do we as teachers are actually asked to analyze texts? Hiebert at the University of California will vouch to this as by their findings, text analysis tends to get outsourced. When I am asked such questions about which kid and what texts, my answer has always been informed by my own cultural experiences (schooling etc), as well as my informed practice: a practicing mishmash.

There is no right formula of course, but teachers have a wealth of knowledge (that they bring to their workplace), and the time has come to use this mixed with some commons sense, instead of waiting around to be dished the next mandate. Some key questions to ask for starters maybe:

  • When I was a student what kind of teacher behaviors (involving texts) sent the right/wrong message to me as an aspiring reader?
  • Looking at my experiences, let’s see if I am unknowingly performing similar actions.
  • For elementary grades, what kind of messages are sent when we tell Maggie, “You can’t use the books in the red bin, why don’t you try the blue or yellow bins instead.”
  • Texts need to be leveled by complexity (for primary grades), yes, but all children should have access to every material and this is where great “scaffolding” comes into play–using other students in the class as allies in this is a huge help.
  • Exposing children to quality read alouds daily, and following them with rich discussions will prepare them better for text complexities.
  • In the higher grades, matching genres with popular cultures and helping students make real-life connections will make Shakespeare more palatable perhaps.

Professional development starts within us. I bet, that if you’re not used to the complexities of a medical journal—you just don’t GIVE UP, RIGHT? You plough through, skip sections, reread and practice meaning making through trial and error. The same lies true for our students K-College.

So let’s begin the school year practicing a growth mindset (Dweck)—as, then only can we expect to live compatibly with the Common Core, go to work with a song in our hearts (I’m assuming all of us teachers want to do that), and make that difference in the lives we touch:

After all isn’t that OUR COMMON GOAL!


One response to “Do teachers need more PD, or start taking some creative risks?

  1. teachcmb56 says:

    Yes, Sue! You can make the difference. You can start to create the PD for these new teachers….the Common Core can be worked into the classroom if it is used practically, not ideologically. Text complexity is good, but so is student choice. Make the students readers capable of choosing what to read (like they will as adults)…from the complex high level text and if they want, the low level text as well.
    PD starts with you!

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